Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has hinted at “mind-blowing” artificial intelligence (AI) under development, in a wide ranging earnings call that discussed autonomous cars, Tesla’s bid for SolarCity, Gigafactory progress, and the company’s revenue.
Despite the first fatal autonomous accident happening in a Tesla car, Musk is still bullish on the industry and believes full autonomy is coming much sooner than most expect.
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“Full autonomy is going to come a hell of a lot faster than anyone thinks it will and I think what we’ve got under development is going to blow people’s minds,” said Musk in the press release.
Musk also detailed the parts of AutoPilot that still need work, paying particular attention to “narrow AI,” which makes decisions for the car and is capable of planning the best routes without driver interference.
In the call, Musk said that the narrow AI would be incapable of “taking over the world,” something he takes very seriously. Instead, the AI is being developed for the sole purpose of safe driving.
In his Master Plan: Part Deux, Musk explained that for autonomous cars to be approved for public roads, they would need to have completed 10 billion kilometers in AutoPilot and the car would need to be 10 times safer than humans in cars.
However, Tesla may launch updates to AutoPilot that improve or add new features to it, while it still remains in “beta.” Musk hinted at a big announcement for car autonomy, but said that an earnings call was not the right time to address it.
A major announcement may worry regulators, who have already taken issue to the over-the-air AutoPilot update that goes further than some intended for self-driving. Anthony Foxx, the Transportation Secretary, is working on autonomous regulations to address the industry.
Musk appears confident that the U.S. government will not ban Tesla’s AutoPilot tech, which has completed over three million miles so far. He points to the millions of safe miles and a New York testimony of AutoPilot saving a driver’s life as reason enough for keeping the program.
Autonomous demand will outstrip production for Tesla and others
One word of warning for investors is when the autonomous functionality goes online, demand may exceed production capabilities. That has been the warning Musk and his firm have given investors since the start of Tesla, with supply still not meeting demand in 2016.
“I think the demand for autonomous cars will vastly outweigh the production capability,” said Musk. “So it’s more in our mind that the global fleet of vehicles is about 2.5 billion roughly and total new vehicle production per year is only about 100 million. So, the fleet is basically turning over every roughly 20, 25 years. We would have to make some truly enormous number of autonomous vehicles for there to be any land saturation because it will basically be the only car anyone wants to buy.”
Musk has definitely bought into self-driving, after initially pondering the opportunities of it. Tesla launched AutoPilot in 2015 and has since become the leader in the market, surpassing Google on miles driven and becoming the designated spokesperson when things go wrong.
In the earnings call, Musk also defended his decision to acquire SolarCity for $2.6 billion. He said he had “zero doubt” the acquisition was a good thing, regardless of negative investor reaction to the news.
Musk intends to create the perfect purchasing experience for solar panels by combining Tesla’s Powerwall, cars, and solar panels under one roof. Customers are more inclined to purchase solar panels if they own electric cars, and with the PowerWall homeowners can avoid a lot of the electric and fuel costs traditional homeowners face, according to Musk.